Sign on against the return of family detention


July 2, 2014

The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Department of Homeland Security 


The Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas
Deputy Secretary
Department of Homeland Security


Re: Open Letter in Response to Announcement of New Immigrant Family Detention Beds


Dear Secretary Johnson and Deputy Secretary Mayorkas:

We, the undersigned civil rights and civil liberties, human rights, faith, immigration, labor, criminal justice, legal, and children’s rights organizations, write to strongly urge you to end plans to open new immigrant family detention centers.  

We are gravely concerned by the Obama Administration’s announcement that it will expand the use of family detention.  Family detention profoundly impacts the emotional and physical well-being of children and breaks down family relationships. While the administration is understandably under pressure to respond to the current humanitarian crisis at the border, locking babies in prison cells and deporting women and young children to dangerous situations are not the solution.

In 2009, the Administration took positive steps in rolling back family detention by ending the use of family detention at T. Don Hutto, a Texas facility operated by the for-profit private prison company Corrections Corporation of America.  At that time, the Administration also withdrew plans for three new family detention centers.  

The Hutto detention center, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained families from 2006 to 2009, became a national embarrassment.  Although DHS claimed the facility was specially equipped to meet the needs of families, reports emerged that children as young as eight months old wore prison uniforms, lived in locked prison cells with open-air toilets, subjected to highly restricted movement, and threatened with alarming disciplinary tactics, including threats of separation from their parents if they cried too much or played too loudly. Medical treatment was inadequate and children as young as one lost weight. The Hutto detention center was the subject of a lawsuit, a human rights investigation, multiple national and international media reports, and a national campaign to end family detention.  

Because children require specialized educational, medical, and legal support, family detention in closed facilities is inhumane, inappropriate, and imposes a significant financial cost on the federal government. 

We call on the Administration to utilize alternatives to detention for families.  Community support programs, case management and other programs already in use by ICE are effective in ensuring appearance and compliance with immigration orders and should be utilized as widely as possible.  The development of an extensive alternatives program for families could also be adopted from existing resettlement models.  Alternatives such as these are more consistent with American principles,  and much more cost effective than traditional detention or warehousing. These alternatives should include the use of case managers or social workers to manage families’ cases rather than placing them in detention.  For families without housing, the administration should partner with non-profit shelter or child welfare organizations experienced in supporting asylum-seeking and immigrant families to resolve any issues preventing the direct release of families.  Social workers with proven track records providing family and child welfare services offer the only appropriate expertise for supporting families in civil immigration proceedings. 

Bob Libal Michelle Brané

Grassroots Leadership Women’s Refugee Commission


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